Reading Biographies with a New Lens
March 15, 2017
The fourth graders are reading biography this month. What should a competent reader of biography know and do? As Dorothy Barnhouse writes in Readers Front and Center, the classroom is the place where we teach students how to read, not what to read. All understanding about reading seems to stem from noticing and naming. So what to notice and what to name?
Biographies consist of a classic story arc positioned on a historical significant timeline which defines the person. Splitting the focus lessons into those components, first story arc understanding, followed by character traits, significance of biography subject, main idea, and details related to the historic context. Laying a flexible design on our outline, we planned to started with an assisted lesson on applying story elements to the story of Ruby Bridges. Rethinking text complexity as outlined by Barnhouse, more complex tasks/simpler texts.
A short video about Ruby Bridges provided an auditory scaffold to the
learning. Using a Newsela article about Ruby Bridges, the class investigated the story elements of Ruby Bridges life. Checking for understanding, the next day featured a review of the first day’s work using the story arc graphic. Even simple visuals can pack a powerful punch.
Reviewing the elements of the story arc, the students were given a laminated story arc template, a Newsela article about Malala Yousafzai. Work was structured in teams with completion including applying elements of the story arc: rising action, climax/turning point, falling action, and resolution to the story. In the organization of the Newsela articles, a synopsis is included in the beginning of the article with no introduction. Setting up texts as problems to be solved develops agency and critical thinking in students.
Criteria for evaluation included students abilities to articulate the story elements in their foursomes and understanding the story structure.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.
Thank you to Melissa Quimby, @QuimbysClass, fourth grade teacher, for continuing to develop curriculum through experimentation with me.